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The Gresford Mine Disaster page 3

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In May, 1935, a Llay Main Colliery rescue team brought up a body. It was that of a rescue man who went down on the afternoon of that horrible Saturday when th? explosion occurred. He and three of his mates were killed. The bodies of his two friends were brought up, but that of the third had not been reached when the order to abandon the pit was given.

The rescue men who came from the colliery where he used to work, found his eight-months-dead body partly buried by a recent fall which had broken a lifeless leg. They cleared the fall, and on a stretcher brought the remains of their old comrade out. They had found him lying face downwards as though he had fallen forward as he struggled along the gas-filled road in an effort to reach the main airway. His apparatus was intact and the mouthpiece still in position.

And behind this rescue team and the body they brought back to' the surface still lay in the wet and horrible blackness the bodies of the other 253.

The Gresford disaster ranked as the worst accident in a British colliery since the war. The worst in the whole of British coal-mining history was that at Senghenydd in 1913. In that case there were more than 900 men in the mine. Nearly 500 were rescued at once. Twenty-four hours later twenty more men were released by the rescue parties who had succeeded in fighting the fire and penetrating the workings. But the remaining 439 were beyond help.

There was fire there and there was also fire in the great disaster in 1910 at Whitehaven where the workings ran a long distance under the sea. In that case the rescuers fought for thirty-two hours but back came the fire again and the pit had to be sealed.

Gresford's blow came in 1934. The year before that was reckoned a "good year" as far as mining casualties were concerned. Yet in that year (1933) 820 men and boys were killed in British mines and 122,419 were injured. Rather more than eighty years ago five out of every thousand persons employed in the mines were killed every year. That horrible percentage, of course, has been heavily reduced since then but the average remains tragically high, and a large-scale disaster such as as Gresford disaster not only whips up the average but rouses the compassion of a country that as a rule pays little heed to the everyday toll of the mines.

Gresford was the great tragedy of 1934, but minor tragedies made up a dreadful yearly casualty list of dead and injured.

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